53 of 57 people found the following review helpful
on September 9, 2002
I must admit, if it wasn't for the movie version of this book, I may never have read About a Boy. I knew the book existed, but was never compelled to read it. Then I saw the movie and realized what I was missing. And while the book and movie endings are different, About a Boy (the book) is nothing short of spectacular.
Will Freeman, quite possibly the world's most useless man, is jobless and responsibility-free -- and he likes it that way. Living off the royalties of his father's one hit song, Will finds his days full of lounging around, going to movies, and sitting in front of the TV watching Countdown. And while all this free time is at his disposal, Will has plenty of time to discover that single moms seem to be the most grateful for a date with him. Thus, Will puts a fool-proof plan into motion -- make up an imaginary son and join one of those single-parent support groups in an effort to meet women.
However, About a Boy is not all about Will meeting single mothers. It's... about a boy, Marcus, the 12-year-old son of one of the single mothers who comes into Will's life and turns it upside down. Suddenly Will finds himself, unwillingly, as some sort of mentor or father figure for Marcus, which totally distracts Will from his true purpose of being free from problems and responsibilities.
I loved About a Boy. The writing is authetic Nick Hornby, full of humor and sarcasm, but also there is a lively perceptiveness at work here that goes to show you one spontaneous decision can sometimes add meaning to your life. Prepare to laugh out loud with this one!
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Having enjoyed Hornby's more recent novels, HOW TO BE GOOD and A LONG WAY DOWN, I thought I'd start reading his earlier novels. Hornby has a gift for taking on big existential themes like despair and suicide and presenting them with a gentle but incisive humor that doesn't trivialize them. And he peoples his stories with a heterogenous mix of characters who seem determined to misunderstand one another but who eventually make their compromises with life without too much loss of dignity and who discover something greater than romantic love or sex--a deep sense of community, a profound and inclusive sense of rootedness in a shaky and transient world.
ABOUT A BOY centers on the relationship between a young boy, Marcus, and an unattached, cool bachelor, Will, who has joined the boy's mother's support group SPAT (Single Parents-Alone Together) as a way to meet grateful but unclingy women. It is clear from the start that Hornby could have named this novel ABOUT TWO BOYS and the novel has much to say about what it means for boys and perennial bachelors to grow up. It has much to do with taking risks, opening oneself up to other people (even to those you want nothing from), honoring real losses, and taking life on life's terms. As the wise child Marcus observes, two is not enough. He believes in "human pyramids." "I feel better and safer than before," he tells his late-to-the-game real father, "I was really scared because I didn't think two was enough, and now there aren't two anymore. There are loads. And you're better off that way."
A word to those who saw the movie: The book is really worth reading, so don't dismiss it if you didn't like the movie. Although I can't imagine anyone but Hugh Grant delivering Will's lines (and all of the casting was excellent), the book does NOT end with a corny middle-school talent show. Hornby uses another event to bring the story to a head and resolve its many little plot lines, one more germane to the themes of the book. All in all, a more thoughtful and satisfying ending.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on June 17, 2000
"About A Boy" shows Nick Hornby's maturity in his writing. This novel is about the sweet relationship between a 12-year-old outcast and a 36-year-old playboy, both of whom narrate the story. Marcus, the boy, is tragically unhip and is horribly teased at his school. Will, the man, is living easily on royalties of his father's work without a care in the world. When their paths meet, the story is a rich coming-of-age for both, with its share of humorous and heartbreaking moments.
Will joins a single parents group in hopes of meeting a sector of women he didn't knew existed. Through a racked chain of events, he meets Marcus (and Marcus's mother). Marcus comes to enjoy Will's company, and when he discovers Will's little secret, he blackmails Will into helping him. Will can teach him how to be cool and tell him important stuff like who Kurt Cobain is. But when Marcus is confronted by his mother about the mysterious trips he takes after school, it looks like the jig is up--for both Marcus and Will.
Hornby wrote this book in the third person, and I believe that gave him a little more "room to breathe". He cane look at situations from more than one point of view and write with a more objective frame of mind. This makes "About A Boy" highly enjoyable and accessible to all audiences.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on February 22, 2003
About a Boy really gets to the heart of what it means to be a boy, and as we all know, boys come in all ages. The two main characters are Will and Marcus. Will is a professional at keeping disconnected. He lives off of the royalties from a song his father wrote. This has allowed him to live a carefree life of unemployment. However, there is a dark side to this. The song ruined his father's career, and slowly it's eating away at Will's soul as well, even though Will likes to pretend that he is happy with his life.
Enter Marcus. Marcus a 12 year old product of a broken home, changes Will's life forever. In the end, both boys find their own way of growing up.
If you're a woman and you have trouble understanding what men are thinking, this will show you the inner workings of a man's mind better than a thousand books on relationships. Be careful though, the truth might be a little scary for you. As for guys, you might realize some things about yourself that you have never thought about before.
For those who have seen the movie and are wondering if they should read the book or not, you should know that the ending of the book is completely different from the movie. You really should give it a read.
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on January 17, 2000
The novel "About a boy", written by Nick Hornby, is a funny and entertaining book but it also focuses on some serious problems. It is about the 12-year-old boy Marcus, the 36-year-old Will and the problems they are facing in their lives, which are not developing exactly as expected. When I started to read the book I was a little sceptical. I do not really like reading books, especially not books that are forced on me at school. But this book was both funny and interesting. I really had a hard time putting it down. It describes the lives of a 12-year-old and a 36-year-old, who is not exactly behaving the way people their age would . Marcus is an over-mature, left out loser, and Will is a childish man with no interest in starting a family or in any way get grown up. Nick Hornby`s way of writing can sometimes get a little difficult to read. He writes his sentences in such a way that they become very long, and sometimes difficult to understand. He puts so much information into some sentences that you has to read them both two and three times before you get the meaning. This made me a little confused, but it is also the only fault I found with the novel. Besides being a humorous book, with ducks which is dying in strange ways and lots of weird people, this is also in one way a serious book. It shows us how complicated and confusing life can be for a 12-year-old, who has no friends, do not behave like everyone else and who do not have any parents who are capable of helping him. This book surprised me in a very positive way. And I would definitely not think twice about recommending it to all kinds of people, young and old. I think "About a Boy" is a very good novel!
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on June 25, 2000
I had read many reviews of Hornby books before I bought this book - and I had a feeling that I would like it b/c of the movie High Fidelity. But, I had no idea how much I would like it - Hornby is truly the master of the male confessional. He understands how guys (and women) think - and not normal, generic guys, but smart, complicated men. The entire book is full of wit and emotion and honesty - but a 3-page passage beginning around page 245 is one that I will never forget. It starts out with a discussion of suicide and depression, and the reasons for living (but in a coloquial manner, not highly philosophical) - and then it turns to the best description of how a man (Will) loves a woman that I've ever seen/heard/read. I even typed up the passage to save and send to my girlfriend. I can't wait to read his other books, knowing that every part of his novels allows the reader to connect with himself. Other reviewers have described the plot well, so I'll leave that out, I just wanted to focus on the poignancy, wit, humor, and honesty of the novel. And I will always remember the characters in the novel, and when I see someone like them in real life, I'll say "he's just like Marcus/Will/Fiona" -- You must read it!
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on July 6, 2000
In this book, an unattached, disengaged 36 year old man and a strange, troubled 12 year old boy teach each other how to grow up. The theme of the book seems to be that, in order to participate fully in life, we must make choices concerning how to be, but we also must make compromises. Nothing is gained without a price. And we must weight carefully the worth of what we are willing to sacrifice for what we hope to exchange. After all, what is at stake is more than just fitting in or engaging with people, it's our identity.
In the course of the novel, and through his relationship with Marcus, Will comes to trade security, comfort, detachment, disengagement, and a kind of anti-hero sense of rugged egocentrism for participation with others. It's not a struggle easily won. But, we are gratified when it is, because, until it is, Will is barely alive. He has money, security, and spends days entertaining himself for himself alone; in many ways he has an ideal life. But Hornby takes pains to demonstrate the vacuity of this kind of life. One of the points of the book is that isolation is a kind of curse. Will is a kind of laboratory with which to explore this idea because he is unlike the other characters. His isolation is carefully chosen and nurtured, while the other characters are desperate for contact.
Marcus serves as a kind of laboratory, too. He is genuinely nice and has special qualities that distance him from his classmates. But, as we all know, making one's way in school demands conformity. Because he is kind of weird, Marcus is perhaps justifiably teased. And because he lives alone with a suicidal mother, Marcus decides that having more people around him is better than living with all one's eggs in one basket - safety from isolation in numbers as it were. Yet, at the end Marcus, too, grows up and learns to conform. He gains more people in his life, but perhaps there's a hint that the price he pays for this conformity may be soul-crushing. After all, he learns to be more like the former Will.
And, it's hard to know what to think about this. But, if anything, this beautiful book teaches us not to be so cavalier with the choices we make. Because everything is a trade-off.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on April 21, 2000
Nick Hornby's About A Boy is a novel that is set up like a romantic comedy, complete with the single mom, the cute kid and a love/hate relationship. That is how he involves us into his story, but he's on to much more. Will Freeman is a man with no job, and no plans to get one anytime soon. And yes according to formula he starts out as a sworn bachalor, cynical and wary of the idea of steady relationships and children. And according to formula we've learned from countless other novels and movies this will be the story of his redemption and retraction from that position. But it is in his highly original characters and acute observations that Hornby makes this novel so much more then it looks.
One character observes about Will Freeman that the very fact that he can survive without a purpose, without a hanger to hang his life on is in fact quite an achievement. "THERE IS NOTHING STANDING BETWEEN YOU AND DESPAIR". Ofcourse as his detachment and cynical attitude towards romance fades, his dispair grows. I'm reminded of that great line from Springsteen "YOU CAN'T SHUT OUT THE RISK AND THE PAIN WITHOUT LOSING THE LOVE THAT REMAINS."
The other side of the story involves a twelve year old and his mother, who is a woman who "SHUTS HER EYES WHILE PLAYING THE PIANO", who in her passion and romantic dreams exposes herself to the pain so often inflicted when these dreams crash and burn. She is linked to Will through her son and what develops is not your average sugary sweet romance at all. I don't think I'm giving anything away by saying that the romance in this book is not between her and Will.
Readers who buy this book, will undoubtly do so for the slice of life London setting, for the music, for the romance and for Hornby's honest and funny writing, yet as if these things weren't enough, the book will pleasantly surprise all its readers with it unexpected insight.
I actually believe this to be superior to High Fidelity, because as good and honest as that book was, it suffered from its singular prespective, the narrator's one, who just slightly wears out his welcome towards the end. About A Boy has more points of view, more scenes and the same unflinching honesty. Do yourself a favorand read this one, because in its own way it will reach and surpass your expectations more then any Booker prize winner ever could.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Having recently seen the marvelous movie "About a Boy," I decided to pick up the novel that inspired the film. I was not disappointed. Nick Hornby's clever, original and touching book goes to heart of how important it is to connect with other people.
Will Freeman, the anti-hero of "About a Boy" is not an admirable individual. Will does not work for a living. He lives in a beautiful house in London and his expensive lifestyle is paid for by the royalties that Will receives from an ever-popular song, "Santa's Super Sleigh." Will's father wrote this ditty many years ago, and he never had another hit in his life. Although Will is thoroughly sick of the song, it pays the bills, since countless individuals and musical groups have recorded it over the years. Since Will has nothing meaningful to do, he spends his time shopping, watching television, listening to music, taking recreational drugs, and chasing beautiful women.
Through a convoluted series of events, Will meets Marcus, a nerdy twelve-year-old with a depressive and smothering mother, named Fiona. In spite of Will's determination to stay aloof from long-term commitments, he begins to care about Marcus and he tries to teach the boy how to be accepted by his peers. Marcus, in turn, teaches Will how to care about someone other than himself.
Hornby's smooth writing style, his deft characterizations, and his subtle humor make "About a Boy" a smart and entertaining novel on several levels. Hornby's book is not only a poignant story about lonely people connecting with one another. It is also a social commentary about the shallowness of some aspects of modern society. To some people, one must have the right CD's, wear the right clothes, and know the right people in order to be accepted. Merely being a kind and loving individual is just not enough. Without being in the least cloying or heavy-handed, Nick Hornby shows that meaningful relationships are what life is all about.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
I'm writing this review two days after seeing the screen adaptation of "About a Boy" on its opening night. As a huge Nick Hornby fan, I was enthralled with the final product of the filmmakers. No "let's move the script to Chicago" debasing of the script, a la the Cusack-centric version of "High Fidelity." As good as the book is, "About a Boy" the movie is even better. It didn't seem possible.
But even if you've seen the movie, and are thinking about the book, I suggest you give it a try. Especially if you've never read Hornby before. In fact, if you're 'new to Nick,' here's one man's take on a course of action...
1. [Assumes you've just seen 'About a Boy.']
2. Read the book.
3. Rent 'Fever Pitch' from Blockbuster. [The book is rather a tough read - unless you're a European football (aka 'soccer') fanatic. It deals with Hornby's lifelong obsession with Arsenal & his struggles to become a writer. But the movie is a sweet little vignette drawn from the book. It makes for a nice viewing by a couple looking for a good Staurday night rental. Just ignore the odd cover box, which has nothing to do with the movie.]
4. Read 'High Fidelity.' [Only see the movie if you've read the book first. Don't let the movie ruin the book for you.]
5. Read 'How to Be Good.'
Here are two neat little differences between 'About a Boy,' the movie and book, that I don't think will ruin the book for you:
'Social Suicide' Song
Movie: 'Killing Me Softly'
Book: 'Both Sides Now'
An inspired choice by the moviemakers. The only downside being that you'll feel like an idiot when you get caught by your co-workers singing 'Killing Me Softly' later in the week.
Marcus' Musical Awakening
The scriptwriter really demonstrated a good pop-culture relevancy touch here with this change.